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What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby furrykef » Wed 01.21.2009 9:53 pm

adriannrod wrote:You can't make a language perfectly sensible unless it's man-made, like Esperanto.


Actually, I've read pretty good arguments about things that aren't sensible in Esperanto either. Though on the whole it could be pretty well argued to be more "sensible" than natural languages, and certainly it's generally much easier to learn.

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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Sairana » Wed 01.21.2009 10:56 pm

jcdietz03 wrote:I'm not really sure of the history here - they were conquered by USA, told to use roman letters, then chose not to but instead choose a subset of Kanji as opposed to all of them.

Not sure, but I don't think we mandated that they move to a phonetic system. I think they just wanted to in the reform, and found it didn't work so well for whatever reasons.

You might not be able to "revise" a language but you sure can try... the Americans certainly tried to do this to Japanese.

Korean, as I have been led to understand, went through a complete revisionary process by which they developed the phonetic hangul to replace most of the kanji (hanja in korean) they used to write with. Now, you only see a few hanja used along side the phonetic hangul.

Then there's すいません versus すみません but I don't think that's such a major change.

Isn't this just an example of basic language deformation, rather than revision? no one conciously makes choices like that. They just happen over time.

How long before 'dunno' (don't know) and 'ur' (instead of 'your') are actually considered words? ^_^
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.21.2009 11:04 pm

"Man-made"? All languages are man-made, right?


Not really. There is no evidence that any natural language was ever consciously constructed; the evolution of language is debated, but it's pretty much impossible that any natural languages were invented.

jcdietz03 wrote:Like for example, Pig Latin, Klingon, and Al Bhed are man made.


The usual term for those is "constructed languages". Although Pig Latin is not a language, it's just a form of English, so it changes along with English.

Are languages really constantly changing?


Yes. All natural languages change over time.

It's strange - Japanese seems to be changing more rapidly than other languages. I'm not really sure of the history here - they were conquered by USA, told to use roman letters, then chose not to but instead choose a subset of Kanji as opposed to all of them. From there they've been adding to the "official" list... You might not be able to "revise" a language but you sure can try... the Americans certainly tried to do this to Japanese. And apparently the Chinese communists did it to Chinese (called "simplified Chinese")


Don't confuse a writing system with a language. Writing systems are invented, and so they do not naturally change -- they are tools to represent language, but are not language themselves. Writing systems can be consciously changed by a culture, under the right conditions.

Government organizations do sometimes try to control language, but they are never fully successful. It's not possible to completely stop a language from changing.
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby furrykef » Wed 01.21.2009 11:12 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
"Man-made"? All languages are man-made, right?


Not really. There is no evidence that any natural language was ever consciously constructed; the evolution of language is debated, but it's pretty much impossible that any natural languages were invented.


I think the point there was that they were still created by man (and are therefore "man-made"), even if it wasn't a deliberate, conscious process. But that's getting into a semantics argument; we all know what was meant by "man-made", so there's no use quibbling much over what it means. ;)

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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.21.2009 11:13 pm

Well...not necessarily. Many linguists believe that language is something that has evolved, and was never "created" by anyone -- any more than walking or seeing were "created" by anyone (leaving Divine Creator arguments aside).
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby furrykef » Wed 01.21.2009 11:30 pm

(Splitting this from my previous post since Yudan replied while I was writing or editing this part)

But while we're nitpicking, I might as well point out that the whole deal with "choosing to use a subset of kanji" really only applies to the government and newspapers, though it includes the school system. Any student of Japanese who wanders away from lesson materials and checks out video games or manga, let alone novels, etc., is probably going to run into non-Jōyō kanji pretty quickly. When I ripped the text of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I found at least one non-Jōyō kanji in there (闇, used for the Dark World: 闇世界), even though the game probably uses only 256 kanji total (I have some text that isn't fully decoded, but I don't think too many more kanji could be lurking in there).

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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby kurisuto » Thu 01.22.2009 11:47 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
"Man-made"? All languages are man-made, right?


Not really. There is no evidence that any natural language was ever consciously constructed; the evolution of language is debated, but it's pretty much impossible that any natural languages were invented.



furrykef wrote:I think the point there was that they were still created by man (and are therefore "man-made"), even if it wasn't a deliberate, conscious process. But that's getting into a semantics argument; we all know what was meant by "man-made", so there's no use quibbling much over what it means. ;)


Yudan Taiteki wrote:Well...not necessarily. Many linguists believe that language is something that has evolved, and was never "created" by anyone -- any more than walking or seeing were "created" by anyone (leaving Divine Creator arguments aside).


ばれられてしまったそうなのです。 I admit I have a tendency to quibble. :roll: But the problem is, as you both pointed out, to know whether "man-made" implies a certain consciousness or not, because we all agree that languages are all "man-made" senso stricto. But I do think it always has an artificial (or constructed), i.e conscious, component. I mean, finding a word is good, but applying it to something is better, so I think that, at some point, they had to "discuss" (signs, moaning,... I don't know) the matter, so that the shiny brand-new word meant to designate, say, the boar, isn't used to designate the child. As soon as there has to be some kind of conventional system of signs (that is, linguistic signs), consciousness must play a role... I guess.
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.22.2009 1:16 pm

Well, the evolution of language is a tricky thing to speculate and study because there's little to no evidence. We know a lot about languages that have written records (written in systems we can decipher), and we can make a lot of very educated speculations about languages with no written records through historical linguistic reconstruction. But to actually go back to the "beginning" of language is pretty much impossible. And unlike with something like the eye, where we can see the successive development through evolution in various existing animals (from a simple light detector all the way up to the human eye), there's not as much information about how language may have evolved. The theories I have seen from linguists posit that there was an evolutionary advantage in having simple non-linguistic, oral communication, and that this developed in complexity (being able to share more complex ideas being an evolutionary advantage) until we arrived at what exists at the present. However, there is no evidence of any "primitive" language; certainly no written records of a "primitive" language exist and there are no such primitive pseudo-languages still in existence today. The best that can be done is study the bones and DNA of pre-human hominids and at least see what they had the *capability* of doing (since certain structures like the tongue and the vocal chords are necessary for speech). Many researchers believe that the origin of language can be studied by looking at development in tools; the idea being that sophisticated tools would have been impossible to construct and to spread the skill of making them, without language.

Obviously some aspects of language are constructed -- new words are often coined by single people or groups of people and then picked up by other native speakers of that language. However, just as often, if not more often, new words enter the language in a less conscious manner; for whatever reason, there seems to be a tendency of humans to try new ways of saying things rather than sticking to what already exists. Based on the way language works, and the way children learn language, it's very hard to accept that language was consciously invented by people. Most likely it evolved naturally the same way that many other features of humans evolved. One very important thing that has been discovered about language is that all languages have the ability to increase their vocabulary, and all human beings understand the idea of learning a new word to describe something. So if we ask ourselves "Why does the word 'boar' apply to that particular animal?" we can try to study the etymology of the word and come to some conclusion, but this tends to show a lot more unconscious evolution than conscious invention.

There's a tendency for people to look at language as sort of a learned skill or invention, like playing the piano, when in fact it's an innate ability like seeing, thinking, or walking.

The Wikipedia page on the origin of language is fairly good:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby kurisuto » Thu 01.22.2009 6:19 pm

Yeah, it's a bit like trying to figure what was before the Big Bang (notice that, even though it's obviously vain, it doesn't refrain me from trying to figure it out too :D ). But I just can't imagine how it is possible to apply a certain word to a certain object without doing it consciously, I mean, they had to understand somehow that the sound they produced was linked to the object, and somehow to agree on which word to use. I think you're talking about two different problems : the acquisition of language and the (warning : awful word coming!) creation of the language. We're talking about the "Founding Fathers", not their sons.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:Obviously some aspects of language are constructed -- new words are often coined by single people or groups of people and then picked up by other native speakers of that language. However, just as often, if not more often, new words enter the language in a less conscious manner; for whatever reason, there seems to be a tendency of humans to try new ways of saying things rather than sticking to what already exists. Based on the way language works, and the way children learn language, it's very hard to accept that language was consciously invented by people.


That's exactly how I see language in its beginning, as you said : "new words are often coined by single people or groups of people and then picked up by other native speakers of that language". And while it's true that we tend to try new things, it is nonetheless a conscious process : we perfectly know that we replaced a previous word with a new one, and the conventional link still exists (like saying "next time I say X, don't forget that in fact it will mean Y"). Again, I'm not denying that finding new words is a more or less unconscious process, I'm rather saying that applying these words to real objects is done consciously.

I'm also saying that a "word", without its function of communication (I mean, something that is understood by the one who speaks and the one he is talking to), can't really be called a word (and therefore can't really be considered a part of a language), and if I enter a room and shout "hey, let's farge a tropped crather, guys!" there's a chance I will be the only one to farge that damn crather if we haven't agreed beforehand on the objects those words designate.
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.22.2009 7:31 pm

The main problem, as with many things in language, is the way children learn language. The way that a child learns language is much the same as the way they learn to walk or eat, not the way they learn to read or play the piano. The fact that humans are born with the natural ability to learn language -- and not just the ability to learn, but an automatic, unconscious learning of language without being explicitly taught by anybody. Because of that, it is more or less impossible that humans at some point sat around and consciously invented language. If language developed like that, it would not have become an innate ability (just as things like tool making are not innate abilities despite having been around for hundreds of thousands of years).

And while it's true that we tend to try new things, it is nonetheless a conscious process : we perfectly know that we replaced a previous word with a new one,


I'm not so sure that's true. "Ye" did not drop out of the language because English speakers consciously decided that they no longer wanted to use it. It just naturally fell out as people stopped using it; perhaps the way that "whom" is slowly leaving English. I don't use "whom" in my speech, and that is definitely not by conscious decision, it's just the way I talk.
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby kurisuto » Thu 01.22.2009 8:49 pm

My mistake, I thought you were talking about things like buzzwords or new expressions : I agree that the way languages evolve is not totally conscious. Although one could argue that when you don't use "whom" it's totally conscious, in the sense that you would probably use it if you were to write some kind of formal text. When I speak in French, and don't use the "imparfait du subjonctif" tense or say "i" instead of "il", I perfectly know that it's considered a mistake. It's just the way we speak, consciously (because it's easier to pronounce, or it's "cool", or it reflects your social status,...). We're helping our language evolve, just like when we don't even bother creating a new word and instead use an English one (which is a pity, but that's not the subject).

And btw, it creates a new problem : the more "educated" a person is, the more this process is conscious (I know that I should use "imparfait du subjonctif", but I'm perfectly aware that some don't even know about it).

When Latin speakers began speaking vulgar Latin, they knew they were using some kind of slang, and I doubt that it was the way they would have spoken with Julius Caesar. When Gauls began speaking vulgar Latin, they were pretty aware that they were forced to abandon their language (that's not exactly how it happened, but the conscious process is the same anyways).

Yudan Taiteki wrote:It is more or less impossible that humans at some point sat around and consciously invented language. If language developed like that, it would not have become an innate ability


I don't quite agree : once again, IMO, you're confusing creating a language with acquiring one, as well as having the ability to use one and using one. The innate ability is the ability to speak : you don't have to learn it, and they didn't have to invent it. What you have to learn (and create beforehand I think) is a specific language. So I don't see why sitting around to create a specific language and having the innate ability to speak are mutually exclusive. And I would add that the first language didn't appear at the same time that the ability to speak (I think they continued the moanings for a while), so once again, I would say that the ability to speak and specific languages are in no way related (except of course that the latter needs the former, but the former doesn't necessarily imply the latter, just like some primates can use the sign language and others don't, but they all have the ability to use it).
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Gundaetiapo » Thu 01.22.2009 9:07 pm

About 500 years ago, people in what is now the USA started living apart from their friends in England. However, even today, 500 years later, I can understand someone from there almost perfectly despite not ever having learned "British" English. Honestly, I think the day when people from the two nations won't be able to understand each other will ever come. This is probably because we speak with our British friends daily, while people in earlier times almost never spoke with people in different parts of the world than them.


It's an interesting question: does there exist a threshold level of communication between regions that would prevent their languages from diverging into unintelligibility? If so, has the level of USA-UK communications exceeded that threshold?
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby ニッキー » Thu 01.22.2009 9:22 pm

kurisuto wrote:I don't quite agree : once again, IMO, you're confusing creating a language with acquiring one, as well as having the ability to use one and using one. The innate ability is the ability to speak : you don't have to learn it, and they didn't have to invent it. What you have to learn (and create beforehand I think) is a specific language. So I don't see why sitting around to create a specific language and having the innate ability to speak are mutually exclusive. And I would add that the first language didn't appear at the same time that the ability to speak (I think they continued the moanings for a while), so once again, I would say that the ability to speak and specific languages are in no way related (except of course that the latter needs the former, but the former doesn't necessarily imply the latter, just like some primates can use the sign language and others don't, but they all have the ability to use it).


How on earth do you explain sign languages, if languages require the ability to speak? In fact, how do you even account for the fact I didn't say anything while writing this?
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Gundaetiapo » Thu 01.22.2009 9:32 pm

kurisuto wrote:I don't quite agree : once again, IMO, you're confusing creating a language with acquiring one, as well as having the ability to use one and using one. The innate ability is the ability to speak : you don't have to learn it, and they didn't have to invent it. What you have to learn (and create beforehand I think) is a specific language. So I don't see why sitting around to create a specific language and having the innate ability to speak are mutually exclusive. And I would add that the first language didn't appear at the same time that the ability to speak (I think they continued the moanings for a while), so once again, I would say that the ability to speak and specific languages are in no way related (except of course that the latter needs the former, but the former doesn't necessarily imply the latter, just like some primates can use the sign language and others don't, but they all have the ability to use it).


It's not clear to me what you're proposing. How many generations of delay are you saying there was between a linguistically favorable allele and the usage of that allele? At what age are you proposing they did their "creation"?
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Re: What now? (Upper Beginner looking for ideas & help)

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.22.2009 10:08 pm

kurisuto wrote:I don't quite agree : once again, IMO, you're confusing creating a language with acquiring one, as well as having the ability to use one and using one. The innate ability is the ability to speak : you don't have to learn it, and they didn't have to invent it.


It's more than just that. A child doesn't just learn to grunt, the child somehow acquires the complete grammatical apparatus and a huge vocabulary of a language they are exposed to, without anyone teaching them. By the age of 4, a child who is completely dependent on other people to survive (essentially) has somehow mastered an entire language. A 4-year old Japanese child can understand and use complex sentence patterns that would confound people who have studied Japanese as a second language for longer than the child has been alive. There is no other way to explain this except that the ability to learn and use language is an innate ability of human beings -- not just the ability to make noises, but the ability to learn language. It's very hard to believe that such an innate ability could exist for something that had to be consciously invented.

Not only learning language but our brain's ability to process language is something that is much more than just the ability to hear sounds.

What you have to learn (and create beforehand I think) is a specific language.


But there's no evidence of that. It's like saying that humans have always had legs, but until somebody invented the idea of walking, no humans could walk. You can't prove that's false, but it's extremely unlikely.

And I would add that the first language didn't appear at the same time that the ability to speak (I think they continued the moanings for a while), so once again, I would say that the ability to speak and specific languages are in no way related (except of course that the latter needs the former, but the former doesn't necessarily imply the latter, just like some primates can use the sign language and others don't, but they all have the ability to use it).


No primates are able to use sign language. Some primates have been able to learn some simple signs to express some very basic things, but no primate has ever actually learned a sign language, or even learned anything remotely approaching a sign language. The complete failure of researchers to teach language to non-humans is one of the major pieces of evidence for the theory that there is something hard-wired into our genetics that enables us to use language. (Another major piece of evidence is the fact that if a child is not exposed to any language before a certain age, they will be unable to learn a language for their entire lives.)

One thing you have to remember is that language is a lot more than just a collection of words for things. It's not like people just started pointing at things and randomly saying "tree", "rock", "cat" and then once they had named enough things, that was a language. It's easy to imagine someone pointing at a thing and assigning a certain sound to it. It's much harder to imagine people inventing verb declension, relative clauses, particles, and other essential features of language. And it's even harder to imagine that invention somehow becoming genetically inherited.
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